When David Walford was hired in 1994 as executive chef of the restaurant in the Chateau, a 65-unit luxury-condominium complex in Beaver Creek, Colo., he thought the owners wanted an Italian restaurant because they had named it Splendido.
“They said, ‘No, it was not going to be Italian,’ so I asked why the name Splendido,” says Walford, who became the proprietor of the restaurant in 2006. “They said, ‘Because of the splendid view and the splendid food you are going to make.’”
The dining room windows look out on the ski runs of Beaver Creek Mountain. The Chateau, built to resemble a French chateau, sits on a hillside just above Beaver Creek Village, a resort town that opened in 1980. Residents can ski in and out of the Chateau.
Walford has kept up his end of the bargain over the past 14 years, offering up consistently well-crafted dishes. The restaurant has earned repeatedly high marks from Zagat.
Walford, who serves contemporary American cuisine, turned a hidden, residential restaurant into a fine-dining destination.
Having the freedom to develop Splendido’s cuisine was a clear advantage for Walford, who was trained in classical French technique and strongly influenced by California chefs early in his career. Born in Colorado but raised in Great Britain, Walford spent a year in France as an adult learning to cook once he decided he wanted to be a chef. He then went to Napa Valley in Northern California.
The restaurant at the Chateau was initially designed to serve the condominium residents. The condos go for upwards of $1,200 per square foot. Rental rates run about $1,000 a night during the ski season.
The restaurant provides residents with room service and catering, but it is also open to the public. The Chateau, however, is located on the hillside and off the beaten path of the village, where most of the restaurants are located. Enticing visitors to make the trek to the restaurant proved insurmountable for the first concept that operated in the space.
The first Chateau restaurant opened under a different name and a chef who offered wood-fired pizzas and pastas. When that restaurant failed, the Canadian owners of the Chateau tapped Walford, who had gained a reputation locally as the executive chef at Sweet Basil in the neighboring ski town of Vail.
Two years later Walford also became general manager and a small partner of Splendido. He made some changes in the front-of-the-house staff and improved the service. The residents bought out the Canadian owners in 2006 and formed the Chateau Residence Club. They purchased the restaurant space and leased it back to Walford.
“He is doing a phenomenal job running the restaurant,” says investor Peter May, president of Trian Fund Management and a director for Triarc Cos., the holding company for Arby’s  Restaurant Group, which recently announced it was acquiring the Wendy’s hamburger chain. May is also president of the Chateau Residence Club.
PER-PERSON CHECK AVERAGE: $110
BEST-SELLING DISH: rack of lamb
AVERAGE WEEKLY COVERS: 910-1,260 during winter; 480-900 in summer
CHEF-OWNER: David Walford
“David has been able to maintain a level of sophistication but also make it quite welcoming as a relaxed atmosphere,” May says.
The residents had such faith in Walford they footed most of a $1.5 million bill to completely renovate the restaurant’s aging kitchen last summer.
In addition to the mountain view from the windows, diners at Splendido can also watch Walford and his team in action in the gleaming new kitchen, and Walford can see the entire kitchen from his station.
“It was a big vote of confidence to our staff from the homeowners” to pay for the renovation, Walford says. “It was extremely generous.”
The kitchen had to be completely gutted, but the construction took place during Splendido’s off-season after the mountain closed for skiing. Splendido closes from mid-April to early June every year as Beaver Creek, like most mountain resorts, transitions from the winter to summer seasons.
Although being closed like that every year can make it a challenge to retain employees, the restaurant manages to keep its turnover low, Walford says.MENU SAMPLER
Gulf shrimp wrapped with shredded phyllo, ginger-lime vinaigrette and creamy coconut basmati rice $16.50Seared La Bella Farms duck foie gras, five-spice, pear-pomegranate sauce $20
Wood-oven roasted Maine lobster on the half shell with butter-poached claws, gold potato purée, cognac-herb sauce $55Prosciutto-wrapped peppered elk tenderloin, farro risotto with goat cheese, watercress and pickled carrot $42 Wood-oven roasted Colorado rack of lamb, Parmesan potatoes, grilled Provençal vegetables and rosemary-olive sauce $49
French chocolate fudge soufflé with Grand Marnier crème anglaise $14Banana toffee baked Alaska, butterscotch and Foster sauce $12
“A lot of my people like working here because they get a big chunk of time off,” Walford says. “They want it and prepare for it.”
Walford is very professional in how he handles his staff, says Hubert Keller, chef-owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. Keller met Walford after a stint as a guest chef at Splendido.
“He’s very respectful without putting pressure on,” Keller says. “We have enough pressure from the guests. He runs his kitchen without yelling and screaming and being a tyrant. It’s very quiet when the kitchen is under pressure. David has control of his site.”
Walford and his staff also have been consistent with the quality of food they produce, Keller says.
May also uses the word consistent to describe the quality of Splendido’s fare.
“I live in New York, and we have some of the best restaurants in the world here,” May says. “I think Splendido would do well here.”
“When I was hired from Sweet Basil, I looked at the building, at the location, the Rocky Mountains, the West, and I knew I wanted the cuisine to be somewhat mountain-inspired and hearty,” Walford says. “I also knew the clientele here was a little more well-heeled than at Sweet Basil. The room is beautiful and elegant, and I wanted to make the food beautiful and elegant but also hearty.”